Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Patricia Roehling

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Weight discrimination is well documented in employment, social, educational, and medical settings (Puhl and Heuer, 2009). This study uses data from 2008 and 2012 U.S. Senate elections to examine the relationship between the perceived weight of a political candidate and election outcome. We hypothesized that heavier candidates would be underrepresented in the candidate pool and that heavier candidates would receive a smaller percentage of votes than thinner candidates. In addition, we hypothesized that overweight female candidates would experience a greater weight penalty than male candidates. Thirty undergraduate students used photographs of 190 Senate candidates from the 2008 and 2012 primary and general elections to rate the size of the candidates. We also collected information regarding candidate age, gender, political party affiliation, whether the candidate was from the same political party as the state’s winning presidential candidate, incumbency status, and candidate’s vote share. This study offers evidence that weight is related to the political election process. Obese individuals were rarely chosen as major party candidates for the Senate, only 1% were judged to be obese. Overweight women are also less likely to be selected to run for U.S Senate (only 16%). Regarding voting behavior, the heavier candidate is likely to get a smaller vote share than his/her thinner opponent. More research is needed to examine the mediating processes related to candidate’s weight and resultant stereotypes that affect voting behavior. Further research is also needed to examine the factors that affect the selection process for Senate candidates.